How was your Thanksgiving?
Peaceful, relaxing and enjoyable?
Did everything go just as planned with no stress?
Did you have moments with your parents, in-laws or siblings that were enjoyable, filled with gratitude, understanding, and connection?
AAA Travel estimated approximately 46.3 million Americans traveled this past week for Thanksgiving to visit family. I am a realist, and I can’t image all of these visits amongst family went smooth absent of tension, fighting, and conflict.
Many people have a combination of gratitude, enjoyment, and connection combined with stress and conflict with family gatherings. So if you had a mixed reaction to the holiday gathering, you are not alone. Every year from November and through January, the topics that dominate therapy sessions with clients I work with are thoughts, feelings, reactions to interactions with family members.
Whatever your age, occupation and accomplishments, whether you are single or married and have children of your own; the moment you share space with your parents and siblings, it’s as if you step back in time and go back to being a child living out the role you had within your family.
It’s like an unspoken trip back in time.
Family dynamics are powerful.
During the holiday, it is not uncommon to experience and observe the following:
- Parents who are aging; perhaps decline in physical and emotional health
- Conflict with adult siblings that brings you right back to childhood
- Learning new information about family members; illness, pregnancy, job loss, relocation, financial strain, etc.
- Coping with loss; if you have had a loved one pass recently or years ago, the holidays can bring a sense of grief and stress coping with a loved one’s absence
- Disappointment for how the holiday events unfolded
- A sense of relief the holiday is over and looking forward to resuming a normal schedule
As we get ready for another week taking care of our families, many of us are left feeling exhausted after the holiday visits with family and from traveling or hosting gatherings.
How many of the following symptoms are you experiencing:
- Feeling physically and emotionally depleted
- Increased irritability and/or annoyance
- Tense reactions and interactions with family
- Arguing with family
- Experiencing emotions of loneliness, anxiety, worry or sadness
- Either increase or decrease of sleep, appetite or eating habits
- Focusing on the past and/or replaying past events or grievances in your mind
If you are experiencing many of these symptoms, you are likely emotionally stressed and need some time to restore and replenish your well-being through self-care. For some ideas on how to increase self-care and cope with stress please check out these previous posts; How to Increase Self-Care and 33 Ways to Relax and 55 Ways to Cope with Stress.
Consider the following thoughts I have regarding families:
- No family is perfect
- No family is conflict-free
- Growing up and away from family can be difficult
- Seeing our parents as real human beings with strengths, flaws and everything in-between is part of becoming emotionally mature
- Seeing our siblings similar to our parents is also part of emotional maturity
- Limit dwelling on the past
- Everyone in the family has a role, including yourself, be aware of what you bring to the family dynamic
- Learn to forgive
If you have experienced stress with family over the holiday, take comfort in the fact, you are not alone. The image of family holidays replicating a scene from Norman Rockwell’s painting, Freedom From Want, is lovely, yet one moment and interpretation of American life. If you want a more realistic portrayal of families during the holidays, i suggest you watch the following movies: Home for the Holidays, The Ice Storm, Bridget Jone’s Diary, The Family Man and The Family Stone.
© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2014